May 3

Heart of Darkness – the Creation Museum

Category: Travel

Today we went to the creation museum in Kentucky, right across the Ohio river from Cincinnati.  It was an overwhelming experience that I have been trying to process for a week.  Originally I thought that I should not even try to list the problems with the museum, because engaging the place is pointless; I’m not going to convince anyone who already believes, and anyone who knows the problems doesn’t need me to elaborate.  But I just can’t help myself.  Read on if you want to hear about my foray into a strange land.  And trust me, what I’ve written here is only the beginning.  I have many more images and thoughts that I just don’t have time to put here.

Those of you who know me will understand that this visit was not inspired by faith; it was a voyage to an alien world.  The creation museum is an attempt to counter the scientific interpretation of natural history with the view that the earth is only 6000 years old.  It is operated by a sect that is connected ideologically to the fundamentalist right-wing Christianity that is prominent in the political life of the USA.

I count among my friends many Christians.  I hope this post doesn’t disturb them, because I have to report that this “museum” is a farce.  To be clear: The ideas promoted by the creation museum are intellectually bankrupt; the primary thesis of the museum is absolute lunacy, and the agenda is anti-intellectual. The religion espoused by the museum is hostile to modern American society and has an underbelly of paranoia and prejudice; these things are served to the visitor with a cheery, friendly facade of reasonableness.  The museum is a propaganda tool designed to keep the converted in line and to inculcate the young or naive with pretzel logic and fear; it aims to change American society by undermining the accomplishments of the last 400 years of intellectual and cultural progress.  I believe that a society based upon such beliefs would result in tyranny.

There are heavily armed guards carrying tazers and pistols who will stop you from taking pictures of some copyrighted things (that are sold in the store there).  I wonder what kind of tazer Jesus would carry?  I spoke with one of the officers.  he was very nice and polite, as were all staff of the museum.  He informed me that he was there to protect the place from “atheists” and other individuals who “could not be trsuted” because you “never know what they will do.”  Apparently, when the place opened, there were some protesters.  They were peaceful, but the view is that since Christians are persecuted minority and under threat, they need heavy protection.  This is just a whiff of the paranoia that underlies the happy front of the museum and its brand of religion.

There is also some kind of cult of personality going on; Ken Ham, the founder of the museum – and its driving force – has a stirring sermon that is shown multiple times a day in a theatre there.  On the stage is a mannequin who appears to be watching the filmed sermon, as if to instruct the audience that they, too, should be watching the film.  This strikes me as a weirdly conformist situation; what else would you do in a theatre?  Is it not obvious?

Anyway, after watching the sermon, I can tell you that Ken Ham is a very intelligent, eloquent, earnest, and driven person.  I am impressed by his achievement in making the museum a reality despite various financial and political difficulties.  As an enterprise, it is an impressive achievement.  He is a first-rate public speaker, but unfortunately, his reason is distorted by elementary errors in logic.  His debating skills are such that any argument supporting “secular science”  (his phrase) is bound to be pointless, since he argues from a position, not toward one.  His is a defensive style, not an exploratory one.  He already knows what to discover and does not accept the possibility of his own intellectual fallibility.  Discussion of his ideas is not acceptable; belief is paramount.  In his sermon, he stresses that belief alone is a weak argument for persuading people that science is misleading; however, belief – faith – is the cornerstone of all his ideas.  He is fundamentally inconsistent.

Yet this place is a hoot.  I had a lot of fun there.  Religion aside, it a a beautiful building surrounded by exceptional gardens.  It has a first-rate petting zoo, a good cafeteria, nicely done displays, and a good planetarium (although some of the content is cracked).  The fact that it has a bizarre agenda and distorts facts does not necessarily overcome the reality that the place is fun.  They’ve done a good job in that respect.  The personnel are friendly and helpful.  I liked the people I spoke with when I was there, at least on a personal level.  We did our best to treat everyone with respect and not scoff openly at anything we saw.  The museum is also expensive; although entry is not outrageous compared to similar attractions, if you eat there and pay for a few extras (like the planetarium, and a few books from the gift shop) it will easily get into the $100 region.  This is no duct-tape hillbilly offering; it is a polished experience similar to Disney world.  A lot of money, thought, research, and the work of many intelligent people went into the creation of this museum (sic).  It is an impressive enterprise, and I suspect that it is raking in the dough.  They’ve been open for 2 years and have had 700,000 visitors.  The items in the gift shop are imaginative and numerous.  The marketing coverage is thorough to the extent that they have special labels for the bottled water they sell.

I knew something about this museum before my visit.  I’d read about it, seen other people’s reviews, and looked at their web site; anyone who has been awake in the last eight years will understand the relevance of this brand of religion in the USA.  I have a particular interest in such matters and have followed developments in the new earth creation movement.  I entered this museum with preconceived notions.  I knew that my visit would be at best amusing, but probably enraging as well.  Still, I wanted to see it for myself.  It is one thing for someone to talk about what they believe on some blog, and a completely different thing to make the construction of such a museum the work of one’s life.  I wanted to learn more about these people.  I was determined to treat them with respect, and to learn everything I could from this visit.  I think I succeeded in that way.  But I cannot hide my contempt for the type of mental vandalism going on in this museum.  It is irresponsible and harmful to naive individuals and to society.  Yet the museum is so silly and the ideas so uncompelling that I believe it will not succeed.

The museum seems to be designed using the principle that the presence of enough dinosaurs will make anything “scientific” and credible.  To that end, the place is lousy with dinosaurs.  There are dinosaur statues, a garden with topiary dinosaurs, dinosaur toys, animatronic dinosaurs, dinosaur books, toys, and dinosaur murals on the walls.  The sign by the main entrance has a metal dinosaur silhouette on it.

As you can see from the animatronic diorama pictured above, the museum carefully makes the point that dinosaurs and people peacefully coexisted.  It also reasons that no dinosaur was a carnivore; for instance, T. Rex was a gentle vegetarian whose teeth are clearly designed for tearing apart tough plants – and the conclusion of “secular” scientists that this animal was “built” to be a carnivore are biased and erroneous.  Somehow, the introduction of sin caused it to become a meat-eater.

Here is a typical display.  Like most things in the museum, it looks like what you’d see in a first-rate standard science museum.  There are beautiful fossil examples and a chart linking them to various paleontological periods:

But here’s a sample of the text in the lower left:

It seems to follow the syllogism “All men are mortal; Socrates was mortal, therefore, all men are Socrates.”  The museum is full of procrustean statements that warp facts and ideas to fit a predetermined conclusion.  The museum is quite explicit about the need to do this; after all, we all know that the bible is correct; therefore, any statement that does not support the bible is wrong, regardless of the evidence.  To quote one children’s book I found in the bookstore there, “Don’t put too much faith in facts.”  There is even the concept of BRGs (Biblical Reality Glasses) .  Viewed through BRGs, all becomes clear… The museum also clearly expounds the idea that using human reason is the root of “secular science” and cannot be trusted.  I find this argument particularly amusing, since a lot of (tortured) reasoning is used by the museum to justify its conclusions.  Apparently, reasoning is OK only when the conclusions, listed in the bible, are already decided upon.

Here are a few more examples:

A mixture of scientific findings and biblical beliefs are offered as support for weak reasoning.  One thing the museum does not do too much, though, is make fun of scientific reasoning.  They do a pretty good job of treating standard reasoning with respect so that the argument appears above board and based upon rational disagreement.  Or so they’d have you believe. The museum really, really, really wants to play with the big boys (scientists) and presents itself as simply an alternative viewpoint, one equal to other forms of interpreting the evidence.  They have a saying: “We all have the same facts, we just have different starting places.”  This statement is incorrect; we do not have the same facts.  I do not assume that the bible is factual.  this unsupportable statement is taken as truth by the museum, which clearly does not consider this elementary weaknessin all of its reasoning.

Here’s some images from around the gardens.  There is a great petting zoo.  The particular animals are there to illustrate that even though the ark was too small to contain all of the species that now exist, it was not necessary to have every animal represented on the ark; it was only necessary to have each kind of animal there.  For instance, you only needed horses, because zebras could develop from horses later.  I asked if this meant that zebras evolved from horses, and was told absolutely not – it was just a “genetic change over time“.  OK, yeah lady, whatever you say.

So… anything you can’t understand is wrong? Below is a display comparing the “standard secular science” explanation of geological and evolutionary time.  They are presented as equally viable explanations of how things came to be.  On the left is a chart that does a pretty good job of depicting what you’d be taught in any good high school natural history class.  On the right is the biblical explanation showing how everything was created in a week.

OK.  Enough of that.  Here’s some images showing us enjoying ourselves.

Here’s Holly with the word’s friendliest camel.

Here’s a picture that Holly took of me.  I’m sure she’ll put more of her images and impressions on her blog.

13 comments

13 Comments so far

  1. Michael Berman May 11th, 2009 1:04 PM

    Dan – you should visit the Mormon temple in SLC to see another impressive example of “faith-based marketing and entertainment”…

  2. Niffer May 11th, 2009 3:36 PM

    Thanks for posting this! I enjoyed hearing your stories when we met the other night, even if it was from a “seriously? that really exists” perspective.

    I LOVE the last picture of tulips. It’s a fantastic photograph.

    Heidi is so pretty. I’m glad you guys were able to have fun!

  3. Joe May 14th, 2009 11:19 AM

    Dan, I can’t believe that you didn’t peg some meter on the heavily armed officer. Surely they have ways of detecting “atheists”. Is there some equipment you have to pass through when you go in, like at the airport? Or is there a bible riddle you have to answer? :)

  4. Dan May 22nd, 2009 12:44 AM

    I do think that some of the people suspected us, simply because we were so inquisitive and spending so much time at the displays. I guess good fundamentalists rush through without questioning things (as we witnessed, and as most people do in the nation’s science museums as well). Anyway, i think there is a test: they say “god bless” and then wait for you to respond in kind. if you don’t, I guess the red light goes on. There were cameras all over the museum and I got the feeling that there was a basement situation room with security personnel tracking the atheists through the museum.

  5. zak89 May 25th, 2009 3:04 PM

    Well, I stopped by to congratulate you; Ken Ham was so kind as to give some comments about your post on his blog @ http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/aroundtheworld/2009/05/25/creation-museum-two-years-old/

    You post is rather unconvincing to anyone who knows the issues; but where the message is lacking, those are awesome pictures. I just had to comment on this line :

    “This statement is incorrect; we do not have the same facts. I do not assume that the bible is factual. ”

    Talk ‘about missing the point’. “Assuming the Bible is factual” is not a fact! And nowhere does the Creation Museum (or AiG) make that case. “Assuming the Bible is factual” is a “starting point”, as is assuming that the Bible is not factual. FYI, ‘facts’ refers to hard, observable and testable evidence, like fossils, strata, chemicals, et al. All scientists, whether creationist or evolutionist, have the same evidence, but different presuppositions on how to interpret the evidence; as you yourself admitted, you came to the Museum with an un-biblical set of presuppositions.

    Hmm, this sounds a lot like something I saw at the Museum… Maybe you should read a little closer next time.

    As a side, I wish you would have spent some time countering all the bad science you saw there, instead of waiting till afterwards to make your case. I’m sick and tired of people talking about how “unscientific” the Creationist position is behind their backs, instead of confronting them face to face. But no, the other side avoids confronting Creationists, waiting till when they’re back home safe and sound they make their judgment.

  6. Dan May 26th, 2009 1:51 AM

    zak89,
    1) Do you propose to describe the bible, or even belief in an omniscient supernatural being, as theories that can be examined? I certainly feel that they should be examined; perhaps we agree on something.

    2) Christians typically use the bible as evidence for or against an argument based upon the belief that the bible is an inerrant authority. They may feel that this is justified because the theory that the bible was written by god has been tested, and there is ample evidence that he acted in numerous ways to change human destiny. However, the evidence entered into our “court” is unsubstantiated. The only reason to think that this document is relevant or factual is the re-entrant statement that “it is god’s word.”Certainly there is a tradition of using the bible as a basis for one’s life, and arguments too; but this is irrelevant. The holding of slaves, the subjugation of women, and the training of terrorists are long traditions, but none of those things are acceptable either.

    So what I want is some hard, testable evidence that can substantiate that the bible is god’s word. A peripheral work, but a supporting one, would be to prove that all other religious texts are incorrect. This would at least allow you to infer, if not prove, that the bible is the word of god.

    As a side, I wish you would have spent some time countering all the bad science you saw there, instead of waiting till afterwards to make your case. I’m sick and tired of people talking about how “unscientific” the Creationist position is behind their backs, instead of confronting them face to face. But no, the other side avoids confronting Creationists, waiting till when they’re back home safe and sound they make their judgment.

    I didn’t write my post to you, zak89. I wrote it to my friends and family. I didn’t intend it as a fully formed, airtight case; it was a “report from the field.” I don’t feel the need to make every communication (of that sort, anyway) a perfect theoretical argument. You will note that I didn’t send my blog entry to Ken Ham; he found it on his own.

    As far as confronting creationists, I felt no need. First, I didn’t want to be rude by “confronting” Ken H and company in their own house. I think that’s like going into a man’s house and kicking his dog. I didn’t go there to “confront” anyone. The first confrontation I’ve had is this one, right here.

  7. zak89 May 26th, 2009 10:50 AM

    You ask if the “theories” of the Bible or an omniscient God can be examined? Well, as I said before, these ideas are a “starting point”, not theories, and so cannot be tested as such. But our starting points can be evaluated to a degree.

    In short, as a Bible-believing Christian, I believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God, and that God is an all-powerful, all-knowing personal being who cares about each and every individual. Can that be tested? Of course not.

    But the logical results of this starting point can be tested. In short, if my starting point is correct, I should expect the Bible to prove itself accurate under examination with all known facts, be they from archeology, biology, chemistry, astronomy, history, etc. After all, I am staking my eternal destiny, as well as my earthly life, on what is in this Book; if I can’t bee trusted in earthly things, how can I trust it in heavenly things?

    You might wonder “What if a scientific fact is discovered that runs contrary to the Bible?”. Good question. My answer is to look at the past, and watch the patterns. Every generation has had it’s share of scientific facts that ran contrary to the Bible; and in time, the Bible has, without exception, been vindicated, and the critic proved wrong.

    So should I turn my back on my faith in the Bible if the latest generation has finally found evidence against it? I would be a fool to renounce an authority that has proven so trustworthy for so long, for the latest words of men who can’t keep their own textbooks clear of debunked “facts”.

    In addition, the very existence of the Bible is a testimony to it’s authenticity; despite centuries of opposition, from governments who put the death penalty on it’s ownership, to textual critics who have subjected it to scrutiny so severe that we would not even have a copy of Shakespeare that would be considered authentic. Yet the Bible still stands today, unmoved.

    But enough on that. entire books have been written on this subject; it would be ludicrous to settle it all here.

    About the confrontation; I still stand be my statement. Ken Ham and his Museum are hardly a “man and his house”. The Museum is not Ham’s private grounds, it is soley for the purpose of spreading AiG’s message. Ham certainly has an agenda (who doesn’t?), though not a political one, as you imply, and as he is, in your opinion, proclaiming falsehood publicly, you have every right to debunk his falsehood.

    Of course, I’m not saying you personally should have confronted them (it’s your vacation, after all), I just wish someone would. I read scores of blog posts, articles, etc, bashing Creationists and Creationism, but always in a “behind their back” style. One humanist group actually talked up big about how they we’re going to “party crash” the Creation Museum and heckle the tour guides; unfortunately, they never did.

    Creation vs Evolution debates are an extreme rarity these days; the evolutionists just sit around and make sly comments about Duane Gish, ignoring every debate challenge. One could argue that this is because Creationism isn’t worth debating; if that’s the case, why do they keep bashing it on their own ground?

  8. zak89 May 26th, 2009 10:56 AM

    Final note; if you mean to say that you just aren’t a confrontational person, fine. No need to debate here. I simply found the post a bit irritating, as I’m sure you find my comments. Everyone is certainly entitled to expressing their own opinion.

    God Bless

  9. Niffer May 26th, 2009 12:06 PM

    Wow, Dan. I’m impressed that your post has gotten so much attention.

    I read through Zak89′s comments and am saddened that he is turning your post into something more than it was intended to be.

    I do not want to respond to most of what he said. I will try not to fuel the fire that this post has started, however I don’t agree with his statement: “Yet the Bible still stands today, unmoved.” The Bible as it stands is really just “The Best Sellers” of all the books that were written at the time. What about the ones that didn’t make it into the Bible – I can’t speak about them, but I’d love to read them. And I know that the Bible has changed through-out history. It seems silly to me to say that it hasn’t, and that it’s not a “Political” topic. The Bible and religion have always been Political, and used to gain political control and influence. I think that the term “political” might have a different meaning in today’s world than what it has in the past.

    For anyone who will comment on my comment – know that I did not think through all the details and so I’m sure I’ve left you enough space to find where I’m lacking. But I’m pregnant, so don’t piss me off. =)

  10. Niffer May 26th, 2009 12:08 PM

    That being said, I should also write that I don’t believe in the Bible verbatim. I believe that it has good lessons and stories in it, but I do not believe at all that the Bible one reads today contains the same exact words it would have hundreds or thousands of years ago.

  11. Tom May 26th, 2009 4:28 PM

    Hi Dan,
    Read Ken Ham’s commentary on your article, then read your webpage. Just wanted to give a little perspective from one who has paid money into the Creation Museum. No, don’t think of them as a sect at all. In fact, they have many different churches and individuals that contribute to them, and at no time do they, Ken Ham, especially dictate what we must or mustn’t believe. They just give some very powerful arguments.

    I was born into a non-christian home. I believed in evolution, because that was what I was taught in public school and on tv. Wasn’t ever taught the quote “science” behind it, just was taught it and blindly accepted it. Then in my late teens I became a Christian. No, didn’t start believing in creation at that point. No, I just read an article later on after becoming a Christian that said as Christians we should believe God before we believe men. Well, that seemed logic to me, as a Christian that is, so I decided at that time to believe in creation, but I crossed my fingers and hoped to die that nobody would ever ask if I believed in it, because I would feel so stupid to say that I did.

    With time, I studied the subject. Creation. And, I studied the subject of Evolution too. Became far more educated about Evolution than I was when I believed in it. As I studied the two viewpoints, and in fact can be said, two theories, I found that the Creationist argument made a whole lot more sense, both logically and scientifically than the Evolutionist argument. Now, I am no longer embarrassed to tell anyone that I do believe in Creationism and I do believe the earth is more like 6,000 to 7,000 years old, not billions of years old as I used to believe from blind faith.

    No, I’m not expecting that you would believe it, as I do believe an understanding of the Bible helps to open one’s eyes to the matter. Though, as I said, I have studied Evolution, and there are atheistic evolutionists out there that admit that evolution has many, many fallacies. No, not all atheist evolutionists believe that way, though some do. Likewise, there are Christians, that think creationism is lunacy and would side with the evolutionist in a heartbeat, regardless if the evolutionist was an atheist or not.

    I just wanted to give my personal history as a way to say that I’m not being hoodwinked by Ken Ham or anyone else. I have studied the matter and for me it has convinced me that Evolution is a farce and that Creationism is more scientifically sound.

    Though I don’t agree with much of what you stated in your article, I do applaud you for having the willingness to go visit the museum. I won’t say you had ‘guts’ to do it, as I know that there is no need to fear a Christian or a Creationist, as many of them, like myself were at one time neither.

  12. Dan May 26th, 2009 11:34 PM

    Wow, I am humbled to see so much discussion going on here. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to voice your opinion.

    I think that discussions of this nature tend to devolve into pitched battles of intellectual survival. Often, it seems that people argue about whether creation or evolution is “right.” I think this misses the point.

    In matters of belief, you do not need to justify yourself to anyone. You have the right to believe whatever you wish. I would not take that away from you. However, the Creation museum claims to span the gap between belief and reason. This is not possible.

    If evolution is based upon a shaky foundation, that does not automatically lead to the conclusion that creationism is valid.

    Let’s say that evolution is eventually shown to be so faulty that it has to be abandoned. The validity of creation theory would not be supported by evolution’s demise. The new earth movement would find this satisfying, but that has no bearing upon the validity of the idea of creationism.

    Creationism must stand on its own, not as a victor in the field of battle, but as an internally consistent idea that does not depend upon the desires of its proponents or the inadequacy of other explanations. It is not enough to simply point out weaknesses in a competing idea. In order to compete with alternative ideas, it must rely upon facts that can be verified by people of any religious persuasion. If it can do this, it will replace lesser theories naturally, and nobody will be able to stop it.

    The creation museum claims to be a powerful alternative to science. This may be true emotionally, but it is not so intellectually. The CM is not internally consistent and its logic cannot stand on its own merits without complex a priori assumptions (that the bible is the word of god, for one). Much of its backbone is based upon statements based upon people’s desire for how the world should be, not on how it is observed to be.

    Believe me, I think it’d be nice if an omniscient, loving being watched over me. It would be preferable in some ways to the universe that actually seems to lie before me. Unfortunately, my desire is irrelevant to this idea. My feelings have no bearing upon its validity.

    In short, it is irrelevant to “rightness” if you find evolution emotionally uncompelling, or if you find creationism emotionally satisfying. As Ken Ham himself said in his presentation in the CM theater, it is not enough to justify creationism with claims of faith. Ken Ham seemed to say that the bible contains so much information that it is inherently useful as a foundation for ideas about natural history, that Christians do not need to rely on nebulous statements about faith to back up their claims to creationism. Christians can rely on the bible to explain why creationism is valid, because the bible is the inerrant word of god; therefore, any claims using it as a foundation are inherently supportable.

    However, if you ask “how do you know the bible is the word of god?” There can be no solid answer. You cannot come up with a proof of biblical infallibility that a muslim can verify, and come up with the same answer as a buddist and a jain. It is a matter for the heart, not the mind. It depends upon what the investigator needs to find, wishes to find.

    It is most important to provide a framework of merit for theories, and it is critical that you not approach your ideas with a feeling of certainty. Science is full of uncertainty. It does not mean that science is “wrong.” It does not even mean that it is “right.” But, it is the most useful intellectual tool we have. It is not useful for some other aspects of human existence.

    Certainty and belief are no guarantee of validity. Belief alone did not invent the automobile, the airplane, explain nuclear physics, or land us on the moon. It did not tell us how to treat multiple stab wounds or how to weld metals together. It did not teach us calculus. These are all things that require no particular belief; anyone can use them, and if lost, they could be rediscovered without reference to belief.

    I think it’s useful to remember brilliant men like Isaac Newton, who independently invented a form of calculus, posited some of the most important ideas in physics, yet was an extremely religious man. However, non-religious people can validate his scientific ideas without knowledge of his beliefs. I think that this is the way for science and religion to coexist: believe what you want, but claim only what you can demonstrate. The rest is in your heart.

  13. Enid again May 27th, 2009 12:50 AM

    Well-said! I appreciate that you’re allowing your blog to be a venue for discussion.

    One thing I don’t understand is why science is threatening. Science is just information. Isn’t information always changing?

    In the 1600s, doctors used to throw people in water when they had rabies. And you know what? They died. Today if you get bitten by a rabid animal it is not a death sentence thanks to the vaccine. Thank goodness for new information.

    Science is not in competition with creationism. It should not threaten it. It is simply observing the world around us.

    What happens when you add lots of broth to a dish? When you try a certain skin lotion? When you soothe a crying baby? People observe what happens and then either try something new or keep doing what works. That’s science.

    Anyone can believe whatever they want. I believe flat pillows are nirvana, that french fries dipped in ice cream are awesome, and that all black outfits are modern and sleek.

    I don’t mind whatever deity someone decides to believe in. I think it is great that people seek lives that are fulfilling to them.

    What I mind is when they say my deity is wrong and only theirs is right. And that they can prove it. Faith cannot be proven. And that’s ok, it doesn’t need to be.

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